Before I’ve finished my morning coffee, I hear the squeal of brakes in the driveway. My 12-year-old grandson. Then a light tap when he leans his bicycle against the house. He knocks on the screen door.
“Morning, Joshua. Come in.”
He carries the heat of summer into the house, the edge of his hair damp with perspiration. “Pour yourself some juice,” I tell him. Sunlight coming through the kitchen window sets his blond hair on fire.
“Ready for your first computer lesson, Bubbe?” he asks, taking the orange juice from the refrigerator.
My daughter has haunted me to buy a computer for almost a year. When I accompanied her to the mall on Saturday, she steered me into an electronics store and signaled to a salesman. “I want to look at a computer for my mother.”
Not again, I thought. How many times must I tell her I can’t afford one? That’s my excuse when ‘encouraged’ to buy something I don’t want. I’m too busy reading a stack of novels to spend time learning about computers.
She smiled at the salesman. “It’s for her birthday.”
Now what could I say to that?
Joshua gulps down his juice while I rinse my coffee cup in the sink. “What’s on the docket today?” I ask, leading the way into the den. He turns on the computer and adjusts the monitor, all business now. Teaching his 81-year-old grandmother is a serious matter. He shows me how to create an email for his sister. He sends it with a picture of me sitting beside him at the computer. How does he take a picture without a camera? Before I can ask about this mystery, he demonstrates how to ‘bring up the Net.’ “Hold your horses, Joshua. You’re going too fast.”
I hear a musical ding coming from the computer.
“Look. Shirley’s already replied to us.” My granddaughter includes a short message: ‘hi C U 2morrow lol.’ The grinning red face at the end of the text reminds me of a devil. Maybe this computer stuff isn’t so difficult after all.
“Where did you live when you were a teenager?” he asks me.
“I’ve told you enough stories, Joshua. Montreal.”
“Oh, I forgot.” He types ‘montreal’ in a box and clicks on a line. Then, on the monitor I see photos of Montreal – government buildings, stores, and synagogues I’d forgotten about long ago. I haven’t been back in over fifty years. “Oh, there’s Reitmans!”
Joshua looks up. “Who’s Reitman?”
“A women’s clothing store. Very expensive. My father once sent me there to buy the most luxurious slip I could find. I thought he wanted it for my mother.” Little did I know at the time he’d end up in court.
“Why did he want it?”
“Never mind. I’ll tell you later when—look, Eaton’s. That’s where I shopped.” The store reminds me of the day when my friend, Jackie, and I bought satin nightgowns to wear to a wedding. We were so excited to find them. What were we thinking? I sigh. I lost touch with Jackie years ago.
“Joshua, can I send an email to a friend?”
“What’s her email address?”
“I don’t know if she has one.”
“Everyone has email, Bubbe,” he says. “What’s her name?”
I give him Jacqueline’s maiden name. “I don’t know if she’s married. I hope she still lives in Montreal. Her cousin was a famous Canadian writer. Does that help?”
Joshua types for ten minutes. Google, Facebook, a genealogy website and Canadian census data narrow the choices to three women. I look closely at the small pictures beside their names. This can’t be right, I think, they’re much too old. Then I remember I’m no longer an 18-year-old girl myself. One of the women has the same birthday as Jackie. “That must be her,” I tell Joshua. I dictate while he types.
My dear Jackie
I don’t know if you are the Jacqueline who was my friend so long ago in Montreal. Hopefully, you are and will remember me, Rebecca Wiseman, from Hutchinson Street.
Isn’t it amazing we’re both still alive? First let me apologize for not staying in touch. It’s unforgivable. I always thought of you as my soul mate. As you’ll remember, my last year in Montreal was difficult. I tried to forget everything that happened before moving to Boston.
My grandson is teaching me about computers. I have 2 children and now 3 grandchildren. Tell me about yourself. So much to tell each other.
When Joshua clicks ‘Send,’ I shiver with excitement, but also fear. What if she doesn’t reply? Maybe she’s never forgiven me.
I sense Joshua is bored. “Are there pictures of Montreal from the nineteen fifties?” I ask.
He types ‘photos montreal 1950s.’
“I’ll be damned.” The word slips out before I can stop it. A series of old photos appear in a slideshow – avant et après. I recognize parks and streets I knew as a child. Each photo of 1950 Montreal fades to a photo of the same location today. I stare at my grandson with amazement. “Where did you learn all this?”
“It’s simple, Bubbe. Everything you want to know is on the web.”
I’m transfixed. Some photographs don’t spark any memory, but then others startle me with recognition. I’d forgotten how people dressed in those days. The computer is a time machine. Why didn’t I know about this? Oh right, my stubbornness.
Joshua wiggles out of his seat. “I’m gonna get a Coke.”
I nod, barely listening to him. I could look at these pictures for hours. And then—
The photograph is just another city block, but the sign ‘Carpets, Linoleum, Wood Floors’ catches my eye. Something familiar about the style of writing, scrolling beneath the name of the store: Gottesman & Sons. I can’t breathe, my heart filling my chest until I think it will explode. The present day photo appears. The store is still there. I stumble, trying to stand. My chair snags on the carpet and falls over.
“Bubbe, what’s wrong?” Joshua is beside me holding my arm.
My voice is only a hoarse whisper. “I’m tired…” I pull myself together enough to pat his shoulder. “I’m fine. Really. I never realized how the past…”
He helps me into my recliner and brings me a glass of water. I drink it slowly and force myself to smile.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Of course. We old folks don’t have the get-up-and-go we had as kids.” Keep smiling, I warn myself, or your daughter will be over to find out what’s going on. “Come back tomorrow and teach me more.” He’s reassured and kisses me. Through the window, I watch him ride his bike home to his friends and the rest of a beautiful summer day.
I close my eyes. Memories stampede through my brain. No sooner does one appear then it’s gone, and another takes its place, making me dizzy. I feel the recliner lifting off the floor and revolving in space. I grip the armrests—
I hear a musical sound from the den. What’s that? Then I remember the computer. I struggle to my feet, but sit back down, disoriented. Is my daughter already worried and emailing me? So that’s why she wants me to have a computer.
In the den, I find an email on the computer screen. I click on it the way Joshua showed me. It’s from Jackie. I breathe deeply, hardly daring to open it. I can’t help thinking it’s like speaking with the dead.
Oui, c’est moi. It’s a miracle to get your email. Just last week I was thinking about the day you helped me with the birthday party for my sister. Where did we find the energy? I’m out the door in a minute, but I PROMISE to write more tonight. We have to plan a visit. Vous me connaissez, I want to hear all the details.
PS: Did you read about the plane crash in the mountains up north about thirty years ago? The bastard is dead.
How many of my memories of 1951 are real and how many are only the imaginings of an old woman? How many false memories has my mind created to protect me during all the years of repression? Nothing can protect me from the past now.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish